“Family Affair” Takes a New Twist

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In America we like to identify who we are by what we do. Thus, in almost every encounter when we meet new people the question turns to: “What do you do?” In my case, when the answer is 40 years of family law, the response is inevitable: “I bet you’ve seen everything.”

Well, even this ripened divorce lawyer was surprised by the front page of Monday’s Wall Street Journal (8/28/23) and its article about surrogate father Dylan Stone-Miller. Surrogacy in all of its forms has been around for a long time, but as we have noted in prior posts, surrogate fathers did not realize how science and technology would unite to reveal their parental status. When we last wrote about this, I was asked to consult with a physician who, while in medical school, supplemented his income by selling his genetic material. At the time it seemed so anonymous; until he was contacted by a child who wanted to meet her genetic father. It freaked him out to learn that, yes, his “transactions” in medical school did produce children. And these kids could now find him. At the height of his career with a wife and planned kids of his own, this was not in his playbook.

Dylan Stone-Miller comes at this issue from the opposite perspective. Yes, he sold his material and then innocently went about life with a marriage and kids. But when he saw his marital relationship foundering, he decided to adapt by searching for the 90+ kids he seems to have fathered. The Wall Street Journal described the varied responses he found when he went knocking on doors electronically to introduce himself and reveal his “family ties.” He sets aside time to stop by to visit those families that are receptive to his contacts. But, as you might expect, that’s not a universal response. Each situation is different. Kids who know they are adopted or the product of IVF do become curious about why their eyes are blue or their hair is brown. There are questions about the degree of interaction. Do you let this stranger take your kids to dinner just because he seems to be able to show he is, in fact, dad? Stone-Miller seems adaptable and understands that he may face Stone -Cold rejection. But one must wonder how many parents conclude a visit and ask: “Was that creepy?”

The message here is that there are other Stone-Millers out there and they may be in touch with you asking how their kid is doing.

The other place where the law has not caught up to reality is the matter of estate law. If, tragically, your child conceived artificially should die, could donor-dad be a beneficiary of the child’s estate? Until 23&Me and other genetic tracing algorithms became available, estate planners would not have credited the possibility of the anonymous donor as beneficiary. While not many minors die testate (with a will), some of them fall into the class of trust and estate beneficiaries who may have vested in interests in someone else’s estate. Every state has its own laws relating to who inherits from a child and how. So, there is no single answer.* Suffice to say that genetic tracing has made life complicated for those who are parenting children by alternate means.

* Pennsylvania estate law does not allow such claims but realize that “genetic material” of the kind discussed here does have a propensity to travel outside the place where it was harvested.

N.B. Thanks to Catherine Appel of the firm’s Tax & Wealth Planning Dept. for her input.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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